Album Review: Gene Loves Jezebel – “Dance Underwater”
Gene Loves Jezebel were very much the HIM of the 80s goth scene. Fronted up by Porthcawl natives and twin brothers Jay and Michael Aston (two men so effeminate that they made Robin Black look like Henry Rollins by comparison) they nevertheless had the chops and tunes to stand up to any of their more sinister-looking contemporaries. Listen to their creative and commercial highpoint in 1986’s Discover, especially the all-time classic Desire, a song which practically invites you to plaster on a load of ghost make-up and sway like a tree in the middle of a dry ice filled dancefloor, for proof.
Unfortunately, they were sunk by what can only be described as chronic infighting between the Aston brothers in the late 80s which led to Michael storming off to LA in an artistic snit. Several court cases later, there are now two Gene Loves Jezebels doing the rounds, with Michael owning the name rights in the States and Jay and the other original members (including guitarist James Stevenson, also of Chelsea and The Alarm) owning them over here in dear old Blighty. Dance Underwater is from Jay’s version of the band, and is their first new release in over a decade.
Opening track Charmed Life (Never Give In) is a bit of an oddity, blending some good Spanish guitar style work from Stevenson with an almost 80s Euro house style keyboards and drum machine backing. Yet somehow it works, actually sounding like a logical extension of the classic GLJ sound. Summertime sees the band in more familiar territory, with the sparse and dark arrangement mixed with a big anthemic chorus harking back to songs like Desire or Heartbreak from the band’s heyday.
Thereafter, Dance Underwater is a good solid example of old school goth rock given a bit of a 21st century sheen. Ain’t It Enough sees Jay affecting an almost Lou Reed/Peter Perrett style drawl over a languorous acoustic-led backing to good effect, while Izitme? despite a terrible title, evokes the same sort of big fun city goth melodrama that Flesh For Lulu used to do so well back in the day. The hypnotic five minute bliss-out of Flying and the yearning I Don’t Wanna Dance Underwater which closes things are good efforts as well.
It’s not all plain sailing – the balladry of How Do You Say Goodbye To Someone You Love? just sounds too overwrought for its own good (always an occupational hazard of this sort of music) and World Gone Crazy is a bit unremarkable compared to some of the company it’s keeping here. But overall, this is a much better album than it arguably had any right to be, and proves that GLJ can still pack a punch in 2017.
Definitely a much better album than I was expecting, Dance Underwater is a good comeback effort from Jay Aston and his GLJ bandmates. Retaining the elements to their sound that broke them through in the first place, but adding a new modern day feel to it, it's a very worthy addition to the band's back catalogue. Recommended for any goths out there looking for something good to add to their music collection this month.